Dez Bryant continues to make noise on social media posting workouts with Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott and even featuring a recent appearance by Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Bryant has made it clear time and time again that he wants to be back in the gridiron playing football and “throwing up the X.” However, a two-year absence and an Achilles injury raise questions regarding his level of play if he comes back at 31-years-old.
Let’s be honest, these questions are fair. And you can’t blame those who believe he can still play just as you can’t blame those who believe his career is done either. After all, Dez is the all-time franchise leader in receiving touchdowns. He was named a first-team All-Pro in 2014 when he led the league in touchdowns and he’s made three Pro Bowls. But he’s also a wide receiver that hasn’t played since 2017 and hasn’t been elite since 2014.
Tony Romo subscribers argue that #9 “made” Bryant and that he wasn’t that great. Meanwhile, some will say that Bryant was and still is great, but that Prescott didn’t know how to use his strengths. Football fans, especially Cowboys fans, have a hard time agreeing.
So, how can you truly look at Bryant’s possibilities of wearing a Star next season? Let’s try to take a look at both sides.
Why the Cowboys should bring Dez back
Despite extending Amari Cooper’s contract, the Cowboys need a third wide receiver. Randall Cobb will play over 200 miles away from Arlington after signing with the Houston Texans. The first wave of free agency has come and gone and the Cowboys (understandably) haven’t filled their vacancy in the slot just yet.
Right now, it all points toward them looking for their guy in the 2020 NFL Draft. This is considered a loaded wide receiver class and while pick #17 might be too late to take one of the top prospects (such as CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs or Jerry Jeudy), they shouldn’t have much trouble finding one on Day 2 or maybe even Day 3.
But then again, there are other important needs worth considering. Cornerback, defensive end, safety, and even defensive tackle are positions that must be upgraded before the season. What if they can’t turn to a rookie to fill the starting slot wide receiver spot?
There are risky, unproven in-house options for the team such as the 2018 6th-round draft pick Cedrick Wilson but we haven’t seen much from him either. To be specific, he has five career catches in six games played. To be even more specific, he played in 75 offensive snaps in 2019 (6.69%). 50 of those came versus the New York Jets. That day, his name in the box score featured five catches.
It isn’t my intention to roast Wilson here as I thought he could be a special prospect coming out of Boise State. But I’m not going to say that he’s a better option to start in the slot instead of Dez because he likely isn’t. And behind Wilson? You’ll find the names of Noah Brown, Ventrell Bryant, Lance Lenoir, and Devin Smith.
Bringing Dez back would make sense if you can’t find a replacement in the Draft. Let him play in the slot and have a true warrior lining up behind Cooper and Michael Gallup. Bryant is still likely good at fighting for 50-50 balls and could be a solid red zone threat.
Why the Cowboys shouldn’t bring Dez back
Then again, how much do we know about the 2020 version of Dez Bryant? The last time he played in the NFL was in 2017. He left the Cowboys in somewhat toxic fashion even calling beloved Linebacker Sean Lee a snake. Since then, he was signed by the New Orleans Saints in 2018 only to tear his Achilles tendon in practice before even playing a game.
At 31-years-old, can you assume he’s the same after such an injury? Heck, when was the last time Dez was truly Dez Bryant? The right answer to that question is 2014. He was unbelievable that year. He caught 16 touchdowns that season. Only 10 players in the history of the NFL have scored more receiving touchdowns in a single season. Since those first four years of his career, things haven’t been the same.
In 2015, injuries and a disastrous QB carousel kept him from having a decent season. But we’ve seen “elite” receivers like DeAndre Hopkins shine despite having a good quarterback under center. On Dak’s rookie season he was good, but nothing very special. The same goes for 2017, to the point where the Cowboys decided to let him go.
And now, time for the biggest question mark of all. Is Dez what you want in a slot receiver? In 2017, he lined up in the slot only 17% of the time. There are a few big slots in the NFL, sure, but Bryant might simply not be what the Cowboys are looking for right now.
The Draft should offer plenty of options for the team to find a younger, healthier wide receiver that fits the position they’re trying to fill. While I’d be excited as a fan to watch Dez come back to the Cowboys, it’s tough to believe it’d be the right call.